Music City Bowl (ESPN, 4:00 p.m. ET)
Mississippi State vs. Louisville
Mississippi State needed a win in the Egg Bowl to qualify as bowl eligible this year, and while they may have got it thanks to a bone-headed decision from the Ole Miss’ WR’s choice of TD celebration, the Bulldogs got the end result they wanted, and now find themselves laying chalk in the bowl game.
There has been plenty of support for either side in this game, but taking the points with Louisville is a touch more popular at the moment, and part of that likely has to do with the suspect nature of Mississippi State being the favorite here. Remember, it’s easy to see how their last win was a bit of a “gift” for them, and those teams can be an easy fade, especially when they are just 6-6 SU to begin with. However, that .500 record for the Bulldogs comes from a much tougher schedule then what Louisville saw in ACC action.
Louisville just doesn’t have the ability on defense to keep Mississippi State playing uphill for the majority of the game. Yes, the Bulldogs gave up plenty of points themselves at times this year, but four of the five foes that scored 30+ on Mississippi State this year all finished highly ranked in Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M, and Alabama. Giving up 30+ was nearly a weekly occurrence for the Cardinals, as that number got posted on them in eight of their 12 games. A Miami team -that just got shut out in their Bowl game against Louisiana Tech a few days ago – put up 52 points on this Louisville team for nearly the high watermark of points allowed for the Cardinals this year.
Mississippi State isn’t known as an explosive offense that can put points up on anyone in a hurry, but when nearly everyone in the ACC did that to Louisville this year, trusting the Bulldogs to find a way to make it work isn’t all that hard. Throw them in as the favorite who’s slightly on the minority side of this coin in terms of betting action for this game already, and laying this chalk starts to look much more attractive.
But to cash that play, we will need this Bulldogs defense to lock things down late against a very good Louisville attack. When you give up as many points as the Cardinals do (33.8/game), you’d better be able to score, and the Cardinals can put up points with the best of them. Yet, this matchup goes back to the quality of play each team faced throughout the year, and I’m not sure Louisville’s offense wants any part of the physical nature a SEC unit brings with them.
Mississippi State may have had some rougher outings against top tier competition this season, but in the three SEC games they were favored in this year, they went 2-1 SU and ATS, but more importantly, held all three foes to 20 points or less. One of those teams was Kentucky, who Mississippi State beat 28-13 back in late-September, and then turned around and watched that same Kentucky team put a 45-13 beating on this Louisville squad to end the year.
Those results against a common foe is the final stamp of approval needed for a play like this, as the SEC stands tall and proud for this matchup with an ACC team at least, that is before all we get is talk about the SEC vs ACC leading up to the national title game.
Redbox Bowl (FOX, 4:00 p.m. ET)
Illinois vs. California
If you’ve made any sort of play on a game involving California this year, you’ll know that they are among the most offensively challenged teams in the country. Defensively they are spectacular, but offensively they really struggle, and I doubt that the offense ever catches up to the defense at least in the life span of say, this year’s current Sophomore class. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t look at taking some ‘over’s for their games.
Cal’s totals are always going to be relatively low for the college game given their combo of spectacular defense and barely passable offense, and against a team like Illinois that lives by a similar profile – defense is their strength – this number was never going to be too high.
Bowl games for these teams who may be slightly ahead of schedule in their program’s growth with the results this year are ones where schools aren’t shy about pulling out all the stops. They know how tough it will be to move the ball on offense, so pulling out some tricks and taking some shots should become part of the game plan for each side. Connect on a few of those, and all of a sudden a game that would have ended 23-17 or something like that all of a sudden is 27-21.
Furthermore, at least one team put up 20 or more points in every California game but one this year (oddly enough against arguably the best offensive team they faced in Oregon), and California does enter this game on a 3-1 O/U run overall. All four of those foes put up at least 18 points, and Cal’s offense did some heavy lifting as well in scoring 24+ in three of the four games.
Illinois saw a team score 20 or more in all but one of their games as well (19-10 loss at Iowa), and outside of that Iowa loss, every game the Illini played against a team that ultimately got to a Bowl game, the lowest point total any of those games had was 47 – Illinois’ shocking outright win over Wisconsin. Other games against bowl-caliber talent finished with scores of 71, 67, 57, and 65 points. That should give us more then enough wiggle room on an ‘over’ here.
With California on a 6-1 O/U run in their last seven against a Big 10 program, and 7-3 O/U in their last 10 Bowl games overall, expect the Golden Bears to open their vest a bit in terms of more aggressive play calling, all to help cash the ‘over.’